Riding: New Directions

“It’s important to build off on what you accomplished.”

The experience in Guadalajara was an excellent one. “There are so few riders,” Trish noted, “who are able to do what you did.” They smiled in reply. “The riding was exceptional. Everyone knows it. Simply, it was strong riding.” The extra confidence from Trish was much appreciated.

practice course: Elizabeth setting part of the practice course (RRC, Mar 25 2018)

One final instruction from Trish before beginning the practice course. Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara listened intently. It wasn’t much different from their earlier days of listening to her every word, and watching her every motion.

With everyone in place, Trish signaled Deborah to begin her ride of the practice course. Quickly approaching the difficult weave section of the course (left-left-right-sweeping right), Trish yelled at Deborah to attack the course harder. Sitting back down, “The weave is a series of blind turns. It is pure instinct,” she explained. “It is total trust between horse and rider.” Deborah completed the course cleanly, saying the weave was a rush. Tara, then Elizabeth, followed, riding the course cleanly too. Their riding – fast, crisp, precise.

A quiet conversation among the four followed.

Candace (Happy Girl): ready to win in her West Coast debut (SJC, Apr 03 2018)

Today, my daughters will open their 2018 season in SoCal. They, and their horses, are ready.

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Riding: 2018 Opener

The field of thirty riders was set. From the La Familia Cup (1.50m), 24 riders qualified. The remaining slots were filled by wild card entrants. Elizabeth, Deborah and Tara qualified with top ten finishes, 6th, 9th and 10th respectively. Both the team trainer and a team sponsor were very pleased. They called their riding “masterful”. Considering the girls had met their horses two days earlier, they described their riding as adequate.

The opportunity of riding in Guadalajara had presented itself weeks earlier as the Nationals in Las Vegas were drawing to a close. An equestrian group from Mexico had brought a pair of horses and one of their best riders. They were using their appearance as a dress rehearsal ahead of the World Cup show in Guadalajara. A pair of team officials had watched from the sidelines. Disappointed, they had hoped for a better outcome.

After a few inquiries, word began to spread of a late rider switch for their team. Soon, they found themselves speaking with my daughters. Acknowledging the possibility of a rider switch, they asked the girls of their thoughts regarding a switch. They suggested staying with their original plan. A switch does not guarantee a better result. Plus, finding and contracting riders at such a late stage could be difficult, and may come at a premium price. Besides, their young riders would gain more experience from riding than from watching. If they qualified, a World Cup start would be something to build on.

With a day and a half to prepare, plenty of riding remained. The entire field had events remaining on their individual schedules. My daughters had two events and a practice session on the board for the next day. On World Cup day, only a light morning workout was planned. The only amateurs in a diverse professional field, my girls knew they needed quality rides to be competitive. The masterful rides, for the moment, were a series of photos on display in the Guadalajara Country Club from past shows.

jump: Kent Farrington (USA) with Uceko at the Pan Am Games XVI (2011)
original photo: Al Bello/Getty Images*

A misty morning greeted all on World Cup day. The girls followed their usual routine, checking on the horses in the early morning. Their team of four grooms reported the horses had a good night despite the damp, chilly conditions. They added once the fog and mist lifts later in the morning, it would be a very good day for riding. Deep blue skies and a few, feathery clouds were revealed when the mist and fog burned off. It was indeed a perfect day for riding.

First, it was the morning riders’ meeting and the all-important, blind draw for starting positions. The girls had hoped to draw start positions in the middle of the field. They were very pleased with the positions they drew – Deborah 12th, Tara 15th, Elizabeth 16th – it had to be a good sign. Much of the day, though, would be a matter of staying loose, and managing the expectations like any other grand prix day. Wait for, then ride, their practice times, keeping it all very easy.

Tara: from cross trainers to English tall boots

The course build was going to be challenging for my daughters. They hadn’t jumped a full course at 1.60 m before. The Guilherme Jorge designed course featured a 13 fence/16 effort layout. Also designing courses for the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2016 Las Vegas Nationals, this course design had his trademark technical challenges while showcasing the athleticism and grace of the horse.

During the walkthrough, my daughters’ focus was on the coming ride. To ride the course cleanly, a good rhythm was needed: clear one fence, gather position and speed quickly for the next, stick the take-offs and landings. Turns needed to be precise and smooth. Technical demands aside, the difficulty of the course was its fence heights.

Coming into the event, most of the riders had fewer than five World Cup starts. The more experienced professionals were few in number. The most experienced professionals were the three other riders from the USA. While two entrants (Brazil and Sweden) withdrew due to injury, the tightening of the field to 28 didn’t alter the overall competitiveness. In another wrinkle, the FEI suspended the rule requiring amateur riders to have a top ten finish to appear in the official results. Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara would be eligible for ranking points.

With the first group of riders warming up, a sense of anticipation and excitement was beginning to build in the grandstand. A qualifier for both the World Cup Finals in Paris and the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, much seemed to be at stake. Many were hoping to see the road to both championships begin here. The girls checked their riggings one final time. Deborah and Tara were in the second warm-up group, Elizabeth in the third. Each with a few butterflies, it was fairly routine. My girls were ready.

Among the early starters, the riding was very rough. Pulled rails, time faults, tentative riding. Though one clear round was produced, the audience had grown quiet. Their optimism and excitement had faded. More rails were pulled, but times improved slightly into the low 80s. A pair of clear rounds followed. With pulled rails all over the course, no particular section was proving to be more difficult than another.

Her riding was smooth, her turns were precise. The jumps were clean. Deborah was putting on a clinic. Fate intervened on fence 9C of the Longines Jump, a triple fence combination. Her Dutch warmblood barely tapped the top rail, but was enough to pull it. An audible “ohhh” could be heard throughout the grandstand. Deborah finished at 80.48 seconds/4 penalty points. She was warmly applauded for her effort. Following Deborah was last year’s champion, Francisco Pasquel. His ride was crisp, clean and precise. Posting the fastest time of 76.79 seconds, he was laying down a challenge for the remaining riders in this round and the jump-off – your best ride will be needed. After his ride into the lead, it was another rider unexpectedly pulling off rails on back-to-back fences. He shook his head in bitter disappointment coming off the course.

At the halfway point of the event, Tara was next. She rode a quickening lap around the ring before crossing the start timers to begin her run. With good speed and rhythm over the first third of the course, Tara’s time split was a half second ahead of Pasquel. She then heard a rail being struck while clearing fence 6. Tara kept her eyes focused heading into fences 7 and 8, before lining herself up for the Longines Jump at 9. Though Tara had good speed, she finished at 82.54 seconds/4 penalty points.

Immediately following Tara was Elizabeth. With four riders already claiming places in the jump-off, she wanted to be the fifth. Elizabeth cantered her Hanoverian at a deliberate pace, slowly stepping it up. Crossing the start timers, Elizabeth began her run. She was crisp, clean and precise. At the first time split, she was fractionally ahead of Tara, 0.60 seconds ahead of Pasquel. With Elizabeth riding extremely well, the audience had taken notice of her time and the remaining number of fences. It was going to be close. Slightly brushing the last fence, it was enough to pull down a rail. A nice pat for CM, Elizabeth gave herself a tap on the helmet. Elizabeth finished at 77.91 seconds/4 penalty points. Her time was the second fastest over the course.

curtain call: extra applause for Elizabeth and CM

The remaining portion of the field produced three more clear rides to advance them into a seven-horse jump-off. It ended with a 1-2-3 sweep for the host nation, Mexico. For Luis Alejandro Plascencia O, it was a qualifying win in his first World Cup start. Taking second was Gustavo Ramos with his longtime partner Izzy Miaki, with last year’s winner, Francisco Pasquel, finishing third. The highest USA finish was fifth place by Sarah Scheiring. Riding last in the jump-off, Sarah pulled a rail on the last fence. Her finish moved her higher in the east coast sub-league standings for the World Cup – North America branch. In the final standings, Elizabeth finished 8th, Deborah 11th and Tara 12th.

Their first international show, and riding well, my girls are not ready to concede they achieved. Quite to the contrary. They have learned how to be better riders from the experience, and had fun in the learning.

Note

* Photo of a gallery print. The Getty Image of Kent Farrington and Uceko at the Pan Am Games can be found here.

Riding: Season Finale

“It is no longer about potential. It is about being kinetic.”

A national horse show has a way of drawing the best out of a rider. The stakes are well understood. A win can catapult a rider to greater heights. An unexpected finish can lead to new opportunities. Or, it can quash the loftiest of dreams.

Riding in their fourth, consecutive appearance at the Las Vegas Nationals, my daughters have caught the eye of a few professional riders along the way. They’ve watched them at work, and have come away impressed. Their horsemanship, work ethic, attention to detail, their intangibles. Most have been impressed with their ability to manage the anticipation and expectations of a national show, and the bright lights of an FEI World Cup tour event.

Compliments aside, it is about riding the ride. “It is giving their absolute best in the show ring,” says Trish. “They trust themselves. They trust their horses. They have a maturity that you rarely, if ever, find in a rider of their age. That is why they’re very, very good.”

With fewer wild card slots available, the World Cup Grand Prix field was expected to be smaller in size from the year before. A rider’s best chance to assure themselves a slot was a clean ride in the qualifier, the Welcome Speed Classic, held two nights earlier. No rails down, no time faults. Once the qualifier and wild card slots were filled, a field of 29 riders was set. Only Elizabeth qualified for the event; Deborah and Tara both failed to qualify with one rail down in their runs. Yet, these are the moments they have often practiced. Only one moving ahead to ride the headline event, the other two supporting in a second’s role.

Deborah and Tara walked the course build with Elizabeth, offering their insights on the Oscar Soberón designed course. Like his other courses – fair, challenging, exciting. After the walkthrough, Elizabeth worked through her notes and choosing her sightlines and riding line.

An hour before the event, it’s the quiet time for Elizabeth and Lilith. The routine is deliberate and methodical. When the first group of riders are called, Elizabeth and Lilith are ready. A final check of the rigging, they begin the walk from the stables to Priefert Arena, next door to the main arena, for warm-ups.

The pressure and anxiety of the moment wasn’t any greater than Elizabeth normally experiences. Thoughts of the ride and the course are far from her mind. Instead, the focus is keeping Lilith’s warm-up steady. When it’s time to move into the holding area, Lilith is ready, ready.

From the holding area, the riders were able to gain a sense of the arena. The atmosphere, the anticipation, was less electric than the year before. Perhaps, it was the arena being only three-quarters full. Or, the audience more subdued. A less excited atmosphere generally keeps a horse from becoming overexcited. A highly charged setting, like the year before, several horses, including Lilith, were overexcited.

tunnel walk: from the stables to Priefert Arena

warm-up: Priefert Arena, ring two (left)

While she prefers a later start position, Elizabeth drew ninth in the order. Riding later in the order gives a better sense of the course in terms of difficulty and footing. Riding early in the draw, there is little sense of the course. The ride becomes trusting yourself.

With Elizabeth and three other amateurs part of the field of 29 riders, the World Cup Grand Prix began. Per FEI rule, the amateurs would not be listed in the official results unless it is a top ten finish. Richard Spooner (USA) was the crowd favorite with Chatinus, a 10-year-old Hanoverian he acquired over the summer. He had top five finishes in the World Cup qualifiers at Sacramento and Del Mar.

The challenge of the Soberón course revealed itself quickly. The first eight riders had put down rails, at least one. Riding ninth, 1028 Elizabeth Ksenia Ramos/Lilith (USA), would she be the first to ride clear? Elizabeth was riding the course well, her split times good. They cleared the troublesome 1.60 m fence with ease. The three 1.50 m fences down the backstretch, clear. On the second to last fence, a slight brush on the top rail of the 1.50 m fence. Rail down. Time, a 1.5 second lead on the field. With 20 riders yet to come, an unknown rider with a penchant for detail is the leader for the moment.

The ride done, Elizabeth knew she missed her chance. It seemed, though, the event may not go to a jump-off. Rider after rider were pulling rails. Elizabeth’s lead was steadily being chipped away, then her time passed. The first clear ride finally came 12 riders later. Crowd favorite, Richard Spooner, rode clear at 24. Karrie Ruffer (USA), an amateur making her second World Cup start, also made the jump-off. Spooner won the jump-off by nearly three seconds over Alison Robitaille (USA), with Ruffer retiring after a pulled rail. She finished third, and a place in the official results. In the unofficial results, Elizabeth finished 11th, 0.18 seconds short of tenth place.

For some, Las Vegas was their season finale. After the holiday break, many would begin assembling their show schedule for 2018. A few were planning a trip to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Palm Beach, FL to watch the best ride. A pair of riders the girls know rather well have decided to call it a career in riding, but continue in the horse world.

And, a handful, including my girls, are riding at the World Cup tour event in Guadalajara, this week, to begin their 2018 calendar.

Riding: Grand Prix Day

The day begins early, shortly after 5:30 am. The horses are beginning to wake and stir in their stalls. Soon, it will begin like every other day. My daughters are quiet during the ride in, studying their checklists and going over what they want to accomplish in their minds. Horses are animals with a set routine. Whether at home, or on the road at the show, it is about keeping with the daily schedule.

Though it seems quiet, the main horse barn is humming with activity. The barn crew is finishing their deliveries of stall supplies; the riders are slowly filtering in. Those riding in the first events of the day are the most busy preparing their gear and horses. Arriving at the barn, it is straight to work for my girls. The first order of business is a check of their horses and their stalls, followed by setting up breakfast. The breakfast is precise in what they are fed. It is a mix of ultra-premium hay, rolled oats and scientific horse feed, with the balance varying slightly for each horse. After getting them started on breakfast, along with fresh water, the girls check on the stall supplies they’ve ordered. And, so begins another day.

morning workout: Elizabeth and SAM on a circle exercise, the froth normal (CHP, Jul 2017)

In the early morning workout, a sense of the day begins to develop between my girls and their horses. Of importance is the energy, prompting and workout level. Though it is Grand Prix day, it is keeping it like any other day. Preparing for the event tempers the anticipation and expectations. They become an X-factor of sorts as the marquee event draws closer. No other event is greater, or better, than the Grand Prix. It features the best riders with the best horses in attendance, with a few riding it as their only event. Yet, the competitiveness is even. Anyone riding the GP can win. Deborah often compares it with the NFL maxim: “On any given Sunday …

During the morning meeting, the GP riders are briefed on the day’s schedule, weather and practice windows. With the event always scheduled for the late afternoon, or in the evening, knowing the schedule aids them in managing their time and routines. The most important part of the meeting is the blind draw for starting positions, with a preference for a later position. Between the short workouts and walkthroughs, there is much to do during the day. Though the downtime is very little, it is keeping the day very relaxed and routine. In their workmanlike approach, my daughters can often be found studying their practice video and leafing through their notes. It is staying with what they know, trusting in themselves and their horses.

finishing touches: flora and greenery for the 1.40 m Grand Prix course (CHP,  Jul 2017)

It is when the GP course build begins, a quiet anticipation grows among the riders. Having kept themselves busy for most of the day, they are ready to ride the event. The course length and its difficulty depends upon how the designer wants to challenge the horse and rider. Once the course build has been certified to specification, it becomes available for a walkthrough inspection by the riders. With a printed copy of the layout in hand, the riders will walk the course with an eye on every physical feature – from fence height and distances to the firmness of the footing material to sight lines.

the walkthrough: former RRC teammate and mentor, Megan (r), with her riding student Roxanne making her GP debut (CHP, Jul 2017)

While several riders will walk the course with their trainers (instructors), others will make it a solitary walk. My daughters walk the course together, quietly discussing their observations among themselves. They are also writing additional notes and observations. After completing their walkthrough, the girls secret themselves and talk about the best way to attack the course – which riding line is the safest, which one is the most aggressive, and which one is the best.

Once they finish their course analysis, my daughters tightly focus their remaining preparations on the event. It is their time to be alone in their thoughts, planning and visualizing their rides with no diversions and no distractions. The schedule and weather delays are taken in stride.

the golden boy: Mr. Ed receiving a perfect groom from Elizabeth before donning his show tack (CHP, Jul 2017)

A final brushing of their horses is a calming time between my daughters and their horses. They too are aware of the event before them. Soon, they will be dressed in their best show tack. The ground work is precise and methodical. Every hair, horse and rider, perfectly in place. My girls, absolutely perfect in their Grand Prix clothes.

It is time to be a champion.

the championship look: Captain Andrew Evan Stedman and Deborah (CHP, Jul 2017)

The Season Begins

The weeks of practice have made them excited for the season to begin. They are ready. The riding has been fast, precise and crisp. It is disciplined. Trish has observed they are riding in mid-season form. “They are that good,” she has said.

saddle point-of-view: following Tara’s lead on Cameron, Deborah’s view onboard Comet (RRC, May 06 2017)
South Platte River on the left

The girls, along with Trish and Mark, are viewing this season as one of great challenge. Last season was a very good one, and resulted with an appearance at the Las Vegas National Horse Show. The expectations for them are likely greater this season if not higher.

My girls have said they are equal to the challenge for this season. There are no doubts, just riding. Everything else will follow.

pure love: Deborah and Captain Andrew (Jul 2016)

Beginning their 2017 season today, my daughters will once again start in Texas.

Photo credit – the saddle point-of-view is courtesy of Deborah.

“Ride now, ride forever”

 

A Rider’s Impressions

Written by Elizabeth Ksenia Ramos

The week of everyday practice went well, but we probably could have ridden it better. Though we got off to a non-start with some sketchy winter weather on the first day, we kicked it into gear on the second.

Practice, Day Three: Trish waiting on us (RRC, Mar 26 2017)

Preparing for a season is more than shaking off the rust and losing the bad habits picked up during the off-season. It is about riding with more precision and speed, but also with discipline. While we push ourselves to be better riders, we are careful not to push our horses too hard and ask them to do things they may not be ready to do. Horses, while they aim to please, they, too, need to ease back into the stepped-up pace and difficulty.

The note-taking has been thorough as have our back-and-forth discussions among ourselves and with Trish. She is quite pleased at how well we are riding, and how well our horses have responded to the increased tempo and practice. “You’re showing mid-season form. Can’t ask for anything more.” While her words are very complimentary, Trish knows we have areas that need some work and polishing.

It would be fair to say we accomplished most of the priorities we had set for ourselves. But, it wasn’t all practice. We had a chance to do a few trail rides despite the snow, fog, rain, and wind.

Tara leading the trail ride on a snowy Saturday morning (RRC, Apr 01 2017)

The last practice session of the week was riding the GP qualifier course from the 2016 Las Vegas Nationals. The aim was to ride a faster time than the best time cleanly. Trish had a new class of young, learn-to-ride students (age 5-7) watch our session. Afterwards, we did a Q&A period with the kids. They were great.

Deborah & Comet: in the start area of the GP practice course 1.50 m (RRC, Apr 01 2017)

About the author

Elizabeth Ksenia Ramos will be graduating from the University of Colorado in May (Class of 2017). She will graduate with an ACS certified Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Machebeuf Catholic High School in Denver in 2013.

She is the most decorated equestrian in Rustler Riding Club history, winning Rider of the Year, Horse of the Year and Regulator of the Year awards on multiple occasions. Additionally, she has won multiple blue ribbons, and other placement ribbons, with Mr. Ed, Lilith and SAM: Secret Agent Man.

Riding Inside The Margins

Written by Deborah Anne Ramos

The heat and humidity had made for a stifling day. Other than a light morning workout, we had the day off from competing. We watched a few junior hunters ride their classes, but our main desire was staying cool and staying in the shade. The plan was to spray off the horses in the late afternoon then have a nice dinner in Des Moines later that evening.

In a semi-shady spot, we settled back to do some people and horse watching. We knew it would be a slow, lazy afternoon. While chatting about nothing in particular for an hour, the PA system came to life asking for the presence of the EMTs and the vet in the main hunter ring. Though it was a short walk from where we were sitting, we stayed put. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t good.

And, it wasn’t. A horse and rider down.

    *     *     *     *

Though it was hoped all would be well in a few minutes, every sense was saying it was a devastating moment. A moment that does not happen too often. We could see the main hunter ring was being cleared, and the audience moved away to another section of the horse park.  Tara understood it all too well.

Jasper: not far from Tara’s thoughts everyday (RRC, May 2004)

The rider, a newly-minted junior from Minnesota, walked past with tears streaming down her face along with her trainer and parents. Most ironic was that we had met and talked with the young rider the day before. She was so excited being at her first AA show, eagerly hoping to do well. Any 14 year old rider would be.

Within a half-hour, we flinched when we heard that sound. Dad didn’t flinch. The horse’s injury had to be most grievous.

  *     *     *     *

The accident had put a damper on the remainder of the day. Everything had an anti-climatic feel.

An early arrival at the horse barn the next morning, we had seen the junior and her parents already packing her gear to head home. They were also getting her other horse ready for travel. Tara walked over and chatted with them for almost 15 minutes. She encouraged the young rider to take her time in returning to the saddle. The saying of “quickly climbing back on the saddle” is easier said than done. And, probably longer to get back into the proper frame of mind to compete again.

They were appreciative of Tara coming over and talking with them. No other riders, except for us, had taken the time to see how they were doing. We wished them well, and hoped to see them once again under better circumstances.

  *     *     *     *

Though riders are noted for their mental and physical toughness, this type of accident is much different. How does one come back from this kind of experience? Not easily. Tara had her own experience, but says she is still very much a work in progress.

Mark told Tara, when she returned to riding, it was okay to be unsure. It will take time to rebuild the confidence – more riding would lead to more confidence. Of course, the most difficult part of her return was the mental part. Most unavoidable was the second guessing. Tara had to learn how to trust herself and to trust her skills again. The hardest part – Tara giving herself permission to be a rider again.

Tara & Cameron: GP Qualifier – 1.35 M (Texas, May 2014)

In the nearly thirteen years since her accident, the memories remain fresh in the back of her mind. If you watch Tara ride, now, you wouldn’t think she had an accident. Tara doesn’t hold back one bit. She rides fast and crisp, and can ride aggressive lines with ease. And, she is a very disciplined rider. Tara calls it “riding inside the margins”.

With those still lingering memories, Tara says it has made her into a better rider everyday – better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today.

Brie: the one who brought Tara back (RRC, Oct 2014)

 

Postscript

We’ve chatted with the young rider from Minnesota, three times, since that day. She has resumed riding, the slow and easy kind, but is very uncertain about riding in competition again. She added, “I would not compete ever again. It’s an easy decision in that regard.”

 

About the author

Deborah Anne Ramos is a fifth-year senior attending the University of Colorado. She will be graduating this coming May with a BS in Biology (Animal Science). She graduated with highest honors from Machebeuf Catholic High School in Denver in 2012.

A highly decorated equestrian with the Rustler Riding Club, Deborah has earned Horse of the Year and Rider of the Year awards with the club. Additionally, she has won multiple blue ribbons, and other placement ribbons, with Comet, Captain Andrew Evan Stedman, and SAM: Secret Agent Man.

“Ride now, ride forever”